House of Joy’s “Mughal Milieu”: a convo with the team!

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Alicia Coombes
Hello, everyone, welcome to Asides, the Cal Shakes podcast. We’re here with the team from House of Joy for a roundtable discussion around the play. Let’s introduce ourselves. I’m Alicia Coombes, Cal Shakes’ Creative Content Manager.

Vidhu Singh
Hi, everyone. Thanks, Alicia. This is Vidhu. I’m Vidhu Singh. I’m the dramaturg for House of Joy.

Megan Sandberg-Zakian
And I’m Megan Sandberg-Zakian, and I’m the Director for House of Joy.

Madhuri Shekar
I’m Madhuri Shekar, and I’m the playwright for House of Joy.

Alicia 
Great.

Madhuri
The playwright OF House of Joy…the play writer,

Megan
The Playwright of Joy.

Madhuri
The writer of the play, whose name is House of Joy.

Alicia
Play who?

Megan
this is going great so far

Madhuri
Oh god! Wait, this is a interview in English? That’s gonna be…

[all laugh]

Alicia
Let’s start with a bit of an intro to the play…Megan?

Megan
Sure…Madhuri actually has the best, uh elevator speech!

Madhuri
No! I’m very curious to hear Megan’s!

Megan
So Madhuri likes to say something to the effect of that it’s a swashbuckling action-adventure rom-com.

Madhuri
Well, maybe not so much of the “com” but some of the “rom”…

Megan
Swashbuckling action, adventure, romance, set in a Mughal harem in 17th century India, and…it is! The characters, you know, we get…several of the bodyguards from the Imperial bodyguard regiment, whose job it is to keep everyone inside safe, which also means keeping everyone inside, inside. And that pretty much immediately runs into some snags. And we also have a few of the Royals, the princess, the daughter, the daughter of the Emperor, Princess Noorah, and the Chief Queen, so the Emperor’s favored wife. And then there’s a hidjra character as well, who’s the right-hand person of the Princess. Am I missing anybody?

Madhuri
…the doctor?

Megan
Oh, yeah. And then. So those are the characters inside the harem. And then there’s one outsider. And apparently, this is historically accurate. There was one job that women did not do in the harem, and only one, which was the doctoring. So there is a visit by a doctor early in the play, and the doctor who’s male, gets caught up in the the events of the harem. And there’s there’s a kind of moral awakening for one of the young bodyguard characters that’s happening over the course of the play, alongside the unfolding of this civil war. And so there’s a sort of threat from the inside and a threat from the outside happening. And those two things eventually collide. And mayhem ensues!

Alicia 
I love this play, so much. I saw it during the Playwright’s Festival last year, and by intermission, I wanted to call Eric… I waited until it was over to call Eric but I immediately was like, we have to do this play. So I’m very excited that we’re doing it.

Megan
Thank you.

Vidhu
So firstly, let me congratulate you…we’re in week three and a half? Third week. Yes, yes. And it’s very exciting. We’re really in sort of in the midst of it. And we’re grappling a lot with character. And now we have a complete play. And I want to start by Madhuri just asking you, what was the impetus for the play?

Madhuri
I started writing this play near the end of 2016. I needed to write a new play for a deadline. So I was casting around for ideas. And I was feeling extremely upset about the state of the world. Politics in both the US and India. And I was thinking about history. And this particular historical period in India that I’ve always loved and that I studied in college and that I’ve always wanted to write about but I’d never found a way into the play. So around this time, I happened to find an article that was just about life in the Mughal harems. And I, I did not know, like half of what this article talked about, just like the makeup of the harems. How many women were employed, how harems were guarded by these female bodyguards. And this was an actual historical thing that these warriors from different tribes, really around the world were kind of recruited and brought to these harems to protect the royal family, because men were not allowed inside the harems. So that itself was just an amazing detail that I didn’t know about. And I immediately saw that this was my way into the play. Because I wasn’t too interested in writing about the story of the princess or the story of the queen. It was like, What is it like to be a working woman in this period of history? And also, what is it like to be a woman that is part of a system that is upholding the patriarchy? It just felt very urgent, that question, it felt very urgent, especially after the election. So that’s kind of where the play started. And I like to say that the play’s both an escape and an engagement with our world, because I really wanted to go far away. And I wanted to write an adventure. And I wanted to write something insane and epic for the stage. But I was also very angry, and I couldn’t get away from the news every day. So the questions and the frustrations that I had wound its way into the play, too. So, you know, it’s, it’s a way to…I don’t know, I just feel like it’s it’s a really, really fun play, where every day we’re just finding like, more resonances with what we’re going through in real life. So, yeah, that’s where the play came from.

Vidhu
Thanks, Madhuri. And I was reading that, you know, you said the play is dark and fun, and it has loads of combat, which is awesome, because we have this amazing fight director who’s working with the cast

Megan
Dave Maier.

Vidhu
Dave Maier, you want to speak about Dave a little bit and the women in combat piece?

Megan
Yeah, Dave is Cal Shakes’ Resident Fight Director. And he’s awesome. It’s been so much fun getting to work with him. He’s had the challenge of, you know, no spoilers, but he’s had, I think, some additional challenges on this play, than the ones that we normally see, because the play involves a giant regiment of bodyguards, many of whom do not appear on stage, and yet they do fight. So that’s been fun and exciting, and then just getting to explore with him and with you too, like the dramaturgy of what the fighting style might have been or might have included. And, you know, we don’t we don’t know, in the documentary way, what it looked like—

Alicia
I was just gonna ask that—

Megan
Yeah, I mean, not only don’t we know, necessarily, what like the style of fighting in combat, or in war was in this era and this place, but we most especially don’t know what the combat style of the female bodyguards in the harem might have looked like. Because no one saw it. Because it was inside—

Alicia
Oh. Right.

Megan
Inside the harem. Yeah, and we unfortunately don’t have written records by women that were in the harem for the most part, right. So I mean, Vidhu can speak more specifically to this, but most of the most of what we have in terms of like historical record from the, from the time period was of like Westerners, Western doctors going into the harems and writing down what they saw. So, so, so it’s, it’s a little bit of a, in terms of the historical jigsaw puzzle, it’s a little bit of a guessing game, taking a little bit from here a little bit from there, putting it together, look at this painting, and that carving and this piece of architecture, which is a fun little historical puzzle. And it’s also really fun to invent the pieces that we don’t know and to make, to make it our own and to make it to make it work for the world of the play, which is very unique and not necessarily a documentary world.

Vidhu
And so, let me actually ask you, Madhuri, about the historical inspiration for the play. And we can talk later about how it’s not actually a historical documentary, per se, but just you know, some of the things that inspired you—the female bodyguards in the Mughal harems—which, what I find interesting is that you’re not writing about the Royals, because you know, we have biographies of Emperors and queens and you’re writing about working class women, and kind of like, from a subaltern, very subversive perspective. And, also, there’s a lot of information about people have been studying the, hijras, you know, loosely translated as intersex or transgender. And who were often community were often boys who were castrated and worked in the Mughal court. So a lot has been written about hijras, but there’s hardly any scholarship about the female bodyguards. And. and I know you read that book, which you recommended, K. S. Lal’s The Mughal harem, which I love. Despite, you know, it’s got a kind of a lot of gossip in it, which is also super fun—

Alicia
Like, historical 16th century gossip? Amazing.

Vidhu
So Madhuri, can you tell us a little bit about the other historical inspirations for the play?

Madhuri
Yeah, um, so you, you brought up scholarship on the hijra community. So like, the hijra community is a contemporary community of what is best translated into English as the transgender community in India. But they have a very long cultural and historical story. And they’re not necessarily connected to the eunuchs of the harems of the Mughal Empire. But at the same time, the contemporary hijra community can rightfully take pride in being part of that, that story, that lineage of that story. So all we really know about the eunuchs of the Mughal Harem is that, you know, what we know about was that they were boys were castrated at a young age, and then put into service of the Emperor in the harem, because they were not, they were essentially de-gendered in a way and therefore not considered a sexual threat. And therefore they could be inside the harem and move between worlds. And so that’s, that’s what the historians tell us. And that was not very interesting for me. Because if we were going to have a character who was inspired by that historical reality, I wanted to make sure that character had a lot of agency, had a lot of empowerment, and had a lot of joy. And therefore, the character of Salima in our play, who is the Chief Administrator of the harem, is gender non-conforming, and embraces the power and the joyfulness of that freedom of expression. And therefore, it’s something that they you know, it’s a reality of, we are adhering to the historical reality of possibly how Salima came to the harem, but at the same time, they have the power to move between worlds that nobody else has, they can go to court, they can come to the harem, they can dress as they please, and they command all of this power, and it’s a really, really fun thing. And therefore, I wanted to make sure that every character in the play, really, has some measure of dignity, has some measure of power, and has a real sense of joyfulness in where they are. Also—just to really combat the many Orientalist assumptions that people have had about harems and about the East and about women in the East, over centuries of Western writing, right. So that’s, that’s one thing that we thought a lot about in this play. And the other thing that’s, the other historical figure that really inspired me, is a real Mughal princess called Jahanara, who was the daughter of Shah Jahan. And Shah Jahan is most famous for having built the Taj Mahal. So if you think of the most famous icon of India, the architectural icon of India, it was this particular emperor who built it. And his daughter was an incredibly powerful and very interesting woman who maintained a very tricky diplomatic role within her family, and never married, and kind of lived through multiple generations of Mughals. And I just found her so, so interesting. And therefore, one of the characters in the play is based on her and inspired by her. And the civil war that she lived through is also a subplot in the play.

Vidhu
And she became a Sufi by the—

Madhuri
She was a mystic, she was a mystic by—

Vidhu
She wrote poetry—

Madhuri
Yeah, yeah, she was just a very complicated and interesting woman, as were most of the…we don’t we know virtually nothing about women in the harems of the Mughal Empire. We know a little bit about the royal women because they were able to leave records of their own writings. Because they were highly educated and extremely talented and gifted in many ways. And so, you know, they didn’t have much to do. Therefore, they, they became scholars, they became artists, and they became poets. And so we do know a little bit about the royal women, but we don’t know much about the thousands of other women that were employed there, other than their salaries, because we do have accounts of their salaries, which is just such a fun, fun detail. It’s like—they were paid!

Vidhu
We learn in in the course of the play—and also this is a historical fact—that there were these chief women officers, there were accountants, there were plumbers, chefs, you know, all kinds of people, right?

Madhuri
Yeah, especially the accountants were very powerful within the harems, and we don’t have an accountant character in our play. I wish we could have one. But essentially, like, whoever holds the purse strings holds the power. And that’s true now, it was true then. So it was just the harem was just like the…possibly the largest employer of women at that time, just in terms of legitimate employment, and like a salary, and the dignity of work. It’s interesting that this place of oppression from every other angle, actually did give women a lot of opportunities that they would not have received otherwise. So I just love that. That dichotomy.

Vidhu
Yeah, I wanted to I wanted to add that most of the accounts are from European travelers to the Mughal court, like Bernier, who was a Frenchman. And they wrote these, kind of, very embellished accounts and kind of gossipy accounts, but there’s a lot of information and wonderful stories in there. And then there was also, you know, historical memoirs of the time, like, you know, Akbarnama, like the history of the Reign of Akbar or Baburnama and all these actual historical memoirs, those are our main sources, basically. And then it’s fanciful and epic, in your words. Yeah. Right. So the play draws on all this historical inspiration. But I, but it’s not…it’s not a historical play about the Mughal Empire. Right. And it’s not, definitely not a South Asian play, you know, with setting the Mughal Empire. So can you, can you speak a little bit about how the play complicates our notion of history, and India, and the world?

Madhuri
Yeah, I mean, sometimes when I talk about this play I talk about it has using history as a playground. So I, you know, we have done a tremendous amount of research. And all of the storytelling decisions that I made in the script are in reference to actual history and places where I choose to stick to what happened or stick to invent what could have happened. So like, for instance, the demographic makeup of the harem, is not you know, what people might necessarily think of when you think of a play set in India in the 1600s. Our characters are multiracial, and come from different parts of the world, which is not just colorblind casting, it’s very color conscious casting, because that was the actual reality of the cosmopolitan nature of India at the time, it was the center of the of the world in many ways, it was one of the richest empires in the world. Therefore, people came from all over to live there, and work there. And we have historical accounts of the administrators, the eunuchs, the Nazir’s coming from East Africa, we have historical accounts of the bodyguards coming from Mongolia, from Turkey, from East Africa, from present day Kashmir, so it’s just it’s a it’s a mix of different people who arrive and the Emperors were also known to marry outside of their religion faiths, at least at least one or two famously did that. And, you know, political alliances were the norm. And that’s it. And the Mughals themselves kind of initially came from the modern-day Afghanistan, and Iran region, but became very Indian and became very native, you know, so it’s just really exciting as, as somebody who is Indian, to think about the history of my country, as a very diverse, and a very cosmopolitan place that was full of interesting people and interesting ideas. And so that’s what I wanted to show on stage. And it just makes for a more exciting play in the American Theater. One of the really, really fun conversations that we’ve had with the actors is that, you know, we’ve cast the play, and then we talk about, what is your family heritage? And how does your family heritage connect to the history of India. So like Vidhu, you can talk about how we have found connection between Japan and India. At this time, at this time, we found connections between the Philippines and India at this time, we have actually figured out how these characters got here. And it’s all supported by history. So it’s just it’s so exciting, because then maybe this didn’t exactly happen. But this was entirely possible,

Vidhu
Entirely possible. Yeah. I, what I love is that the characters reflect the diverse reality of the time, historically reality of the time, but the very specific cast of House of Joy, all the actors have found a connection to that time as well. And, and Megan and Madhuri, both of you have given them the freedom to do that, which is amazing, you know, and you speak about color conscious casting, you know, and how diversity is not a thing, it’s not rhetoric in this play, and actually reflects the times, and, yeah, and Madhuri, as you said, one of the actors is of Japanese descent, was very clear that she’d love to play a character of Japanese descent, rather than Central Asian or Chinese. You know, which, historically, a lot of slaves came to India, via the Silk Road, which connected Japan at its farthest corner, and China and all across Central Asia, all the way to Europe. And so, yeah, and we found, actually, I, you know, found this incredible historical research about the Portuguese slave traders and how they brought Japanese slaves from Goa to the Mughal Empire. So that’s an example. And, Megan, I’d love for you to share a little bit about the casting process, or, and, how, creatively and imaginatively, you’ve allowed this play to reflect the diversity of the time as well.

Megan 
I mean, it, you know, the, what, what you’re both saying is just so exciting, and I think has a lot of reverberations for different, different casting processes. Because when you give yourself this large canvas and say, you know, we were actually we’re going to see the multiplicity of history. So we knew we quote unquote, knew we, we were hypothesizing that there was a certain swath of the globe, that it was possible for people to be from an end up in the Mughal Empire at this time. And we, we sort of said, Okay, I don’t think this includes the New World, I don’t think that includes North and South and Central America, or islands in that area of the world, but pretty much everywhere else, it could potentially include, you know, maybe not, maybe not Australia. And, and so given that, that’s how we cast and we were very explicit about that, in our character descriptions, where the characters could potentially be from, cast the best actors for the roles from that, from that description. And then once we had the the actors as as Madhuri and Vidhu were just saying, we were able to take the the actual ethnicities of the actors and and discover that they absolutely could have showed up in the Mughal Empire. And I think one of the most moving moments for me was one of the actors whose family heritage is from the Philippines. Coming face to face with this whole piece of history between India and the Philippines, that she just hadn’t grappled with and realizing, you know, it’s just very moving to see this actor say, I have a relationship with India like my, my culture, my heritage has an extremely strong relationship. And in that case, a colonial relationship.

Vidhu
Even pre-colonial? Well, because prior to the Spanish—

Megan
Well, India as a colonial power—

Madhuri
Which, who would have thought about that, if you’re not really doing the research specifically about it. Yeah.

Megan
Which you know, is, which just takes us into another theme of the play, which is this thing that that Madhuri said that I love, which is like, actually, white men do not have the monopoly on the oppressor role, you know that there’s a lot of other oppressive regimes that exist and have existed. And so, you know, I think, I think when you actually say, actually give artists the permission to say, like, Where could I have showed up in this history, you end up with something pretty rich. And history is a lot more surprising than we give it credit for. I think even even the three of us that knew how surprising it was ,were a little bit I mean, you and I actually we have most—

Vidhu
—Astonishing

Madhuri
Megan, you found your own heritage in the Mughal Empire

Megan
Right! Yes, I’m reading one of the what was it the I think I was reading City of Djinns. There was like, someone was getting beheaded on the steps. And it was an Armenian Jew. Which is what I am! And I just, I am texting Madhuri like “There were Armenian Jews in Delhi!”

Alicia
Wow.

Megan
Yeah. Yeah. So we, we all…we could find you too. [all laugh] Yeah, we all show up there.

Vidhu
Everyone shows up in and in these kind of iconic harems not just in the Mughal harem, which was cosmopolitan, but in the harems of the 15th century, there was two wonderful examples. And I think there are many more of us have been Khalji, who was the Sultan of the state of Malwa (Central India), and he had a harem of apparently 15,000 women and a lot of female bodyguards. And there’s a culinary manuscript of the time, which has beautiful, like 50, miniature paintings of of the Sultan, and you see the bodyguards in conversation, and even frying Samosas and other things that were cooked at the time. So, you know, fantastical tidbits here. And so, let me let me ask you, so that, okay, so this is a lot of the historical inspiration. And then Megan, you speak about how that, you know, you sort of marry the 17th century, Moghul historical inspiration with a very contemporary, 2019 sensibility. And then you’re trying to find actually a vocabulary for that.

Megan
Yeah, well, I think I’m really taking my cue from the language, Madhuri has written a play that sounds very contemporary, when you read it aloud, and, and that draws from history. So we and and that’s, you know, there’s, there’s, it’s drawing from history. And it’s, it’s a collaging history a little bit, you know, it’s it takes place in sort of, in the in, in the Mughal era, which, of course, was quite long. And also, you, there’s, you know, there’s no guns in the play, for example, and there were guns at different, you know, towards the end of that, that era. And so there’s a sort of medieval-Mughal-2019 quality to it, you know, and so, so, that kind of historical pastiche also gives us the permission to let the contemporary collage elements enter into it. And I think that the, that the that the relationship with the audience is one way that that the contemporary kind of brightness really comes out that the play is very epic. It’s epic theater in the sort of most classic sense. Epic theater in the most classic sense, where you have the actors speaking to the audience, and including them in the action of the play, including them in their dilemmas, and talking with them about what to do and how to do it. And, and discussing how we should think about this story and what it means to us, which Shakespeare and Brecht, and Caryl Churchill and all these other epic writers do.

Alicia
That’s right at home at the Bruns with this…somebody asked me a couple of months ago, like, why is this language so— I mean, it just sounds like a new play. It doesn’t sound like a classic. It’s not—there’s no way this could be 17th century. Nobody talked like that. I’m like, Yeah, but Shakespeare was writing Romeo and Juliet—did he write it in Italian? No, no, like he was speaking in his contemporary language to his contemporaries, and, and setting it in totally different times and places. And so that’s what I say to that.

Madhuri
There are no British accents in this historical play.

Alicia
Appreciated.

Vidhu
Well, the play is, you know, overturns so many expectations on so many levels and languages, one of them and then the ideas, you know, sort of the very contemporary themes and, and the relationships.

Megan
Yeah, and I think that the, the themes and the questions that play is asking to me are also part of what make it epic. That the these big questions, a sort of mythic scale, that it’s a play about that, that’s it’s a play about big political questions. And eternal moral questions, which is, which is very, which is very epic, to me. It is a some of the language may be contemporary and is contemporary. But every, every question, every theme, every dilemma, ripples out into the universal.

Madhuri
I also just want to say one more thing about the language, which is that when I was writing the play, I was thinking, What are these—what language are these characters actually talking in? They’re probably talking in a mix of Persian and Urdu, which were—Persian was the courtly language, and Urdu to was kind of the more street level language that was a mix of Persian and native Indian tongues. Very, very simplistic explanation. But if I was hearing them in my head talking to each other, I just translated what they were saying into English. And therefore, that’s how we get this language. If I have the bodyguards speaking in a highfalutin’ way, just so that you feel like it’s a historical play, that’s not true to what they would have actually been saying to each other. They’re working class women. So they need to sound like working class young women. And that’s really where the language comes from.

Vidhu
Megan, I wanted to ask you about, also, you know, the, the collaboration with all these incredible designers to create the world of the play. I for one, I’m completely blown away by Oana Botez’ costumes. I mean, they’re so wild and fanciful, and just so much more interesting than if it was a Mughal play to me personally. So you want to speak a little bit about the design work? And, and also, you have relationships with some of these people? Right? Yeah.

Megan
Yeah, yeah. The the key to being a brilliant director is to just surround yourself by the most brilliant designers and totally trust them. It makes me look good every time. When when we first started design conversations, we talked a lot about the Black Panther movie, we talked about how those designers took elements that were really, really grounded in a historical and a geographic reality, and took those elements and married them with this comic book sensability and then also just was like their own magical fairy dust to make something like, totally Wakanda 2018. 2018? Yeah. And, and, and we so we talked a lot. And I think we heard an interview with Ruth Carter, where she was where she was talking about it as Afro-futurism. And so we were for a while we’re talking about it’s not Mughal futurism. It’s not Mughal past-ism. And so then we were at—I don’t remember if you were ever in any of this—and then we said, okay, we’re going to call it the “Mughal Milieu.” So and so then we started talking about like, what is the Mughal Milieu of House of Joy? What does it feel like? What does it look like? What does it sound like? What is the world that we’re trying to create? And it was really fun, and they all started generating research images, and, and I would send them to the two of you and see what you got excited about. And, and I think, you know, the, the reason that the designs are so cool for this is it’s a group of people that were really interested in building something unique together. The costumes, I think, Oana was really inspired by one particular like style of research, which was, I don’t know, if I’m going to be able to explain it, well, she would be able to explain it, it was sort of like, gosh, this is not going to be super helpful. Let me try this sentence again. Oana one I think was really inspired by one particular style of like, textured fabric that looked from a different angle, it might look like very, very jeweled fabric, or it might look like a very armored fabric. And she, she took that idea and really ran with it in this way. And I don’t that that was inspired by by some of the pattern and design of the period that we found in the research, the historical research, but the actual, like, fabric type and and method is very contemporary, but somehow it works. You know, it totally works. And she and she just had this instinct about this one idea. And it just blossomed into the whole costume design. And I think the same is true in the scenic design. Lawrence got really excited about you know, this particular kind of shape. And there there we have the scenic design. So yeah, it’s it’s—and I actually think that the scenic and costume designs kind of echo each other as well, too, with this repeating pattern that’s in that the the pattern itself feels historical, but the the overall shape that the pattern is in and the color that the pattern is in feels very contemporary. And then so, yeah, hopefully you get our own version of Wakanda.

Vidhu
I want to ask you, Megan and Madhuri how, how it’s been to work on on the script for House of Joy. And, and also, you know, I’m, I’m very appreciative of this kind of organic, transparent, collaborative way of working together. And actually, creating a really beautiful play that was already great. But really, really nailing so many things in it, including the characters journeys, and practically rewriting the end of play, you know, and also, for me, personally, watching the chorus develop, and evolve. So these are all really interesting threads. But what’s that process been like, in terms of writing, and also coming into…being part of rehearsal?

Madhuri
Yeah, I knew that I was going to have some work to do. But I didn’t realize how much.

Megan
Sorry!

Madhuri
It’s my fault. When I started writing the play, I told myself, let’s just write an impossible play. Let’s write something that, you know, I think is impossible to stage. Let’s just throw everything at the wall and see what happens. And so what happened was that it was two years in development. And we had a lot of readings of it. And the readings were very helpful in figuring out character journeys and tone and things like that. But it really wasn’t until we started working on the Cal Shakes production, which started earlier this year, before we came into rehearsal, that I really have to stop and think about, okay, this is actually going to be a show. So what is the most interesting way to tell the story in a way that’s theatrical, in a way that is producable, and I always hate the word producable. But when I changed it to theatrical, it just was way more exciting to me. So every time there’s been a challenge, that has to do with the realities of a play, making a play, it just becomes an opportunity for something far more awesome to happen. Because Megan mentioned a little bit earlier that…there’s like thousands of bodyguards, and we don’t see them. And I had not really bothered to worry about that. Until we got here, it’s just like, yeah, you know, they’ll get it. No. So much of it has been like, it’s Megan’s problem. But it’s not, it’s my problem, too, so—

Vidhu
And you obviously it’s a character problem—

Madhuri
almost always it’s almost always a character, opportunity. Yeah, you know, it’s just, if something is going to be hard, if some, if there’s some kind of logistical problem, there’s going to be a really, really fun opportunity for a character to figure out how to overcome that logistical problem, some of those logistical problems are production related, some of those are in the world of the play itself. And also, since coming here, you know, the difference between a reading and a production is so huge, because actors are actually truly invested in a production, they’re actually going to be on stage doing this every night. They will come with very, very smart questions that I cannot escape from. So the actors have great questions that then help inspire me to write something that will live up to their performance, you know, so there’s been a lot of rewriting, and everyone has been great at rolling with it, which I’m really grateful for. And the rewriting continues, you know, it’ll—work will continue to be open. It’s just the nature of the beast.

Vidhu
Well, it’s a beautiful beast. So I want to thank everyone here, Alicia, and Madhuri, and Megan, for joining this conversation. And at the end of your rehearsal day, and, and, you know, I, it’s just very exciting, the play is exciting. The creative process is challenging and exciting. I think the people working together on this project, are really remarkable. And I think that the vision that you’ve held as a director, and the organic way that you’re holding it, with so many things and juggling so many balls in the air, you said that a director must live in the world of chaos longer than anyone else. Am I quoting you correctly?

Megan 
It was me quoting Anne Bogart, I think. She said, the director’s the person that can tolerate uncertainty, the longest of anyone else in the room.

Vidhu
Yes, done very well. So thank you so much. And I’m so excited about the show and about the joyful agency of its characters.

Alicia
Great.

Megan
Thank you.

Alicia
How can folks find you all online if they would like to follow you or learn more about your upcoming work?

Madhuri
I am on Twitter and Instagram @madplays. I have a website, madhurishekar.com that I try to update once every few months. You can follow me there, I guess.

Megan
megansz.com, and my consulting group that works with artists and organizations looking to engage with work from the MENASA region, Middle East, North Africa, and South Asia is maiadirectors.com

Alicia
And Maia Directors helped us with House of Joy.

Megan
That is right. Yes, that helped us find this amazing cast.

Vidhu
You can… I mean, I wear so many different hats. You can find me on Brava’s website or on my own website which is vidhusinghtheater.com

Alicia
Great. Thank you.

[all] Thank you!

Alicia
House of Joy begins performances August 14 and plays through September 1. You can find out more and get tickets at calshakes.org.

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